14 early signs of heartburn to watch out for
Heartburn is a prevalent condition that affects millions of people worldwide. The burning feeling in the chest caused by the onset of heartburn can cause discomfort. The condition can be temporary or chronic if left unmanaged. It occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation and discomfort. Recognizing the early symptoms of heartburn is crucial for timely intervention and effective management. Let’s look at the subtle indicators of heartburn.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn, known as acid indigestion or acid reflux, is a condition where the stomach acid rushes back up into the esophagus (a tube carrying food from the mouth to the stomach, and it is not designed to handle the corrosive effects of stomach acid). The acid reflux generally leads to a range of uncomfortable symptoms.
The primary reason behind heartburn is a dysfunctional lower esophageal sphincter (LES). It is a muscle ring situated at the bottom of the esophagus that normally acts as a one-way valve, allowing foods and liquids to enter the stomach while preventing stomach contents from flowing back up into the esophagus. When the LES weakens or relaxes inappropriately, stomach acid can escape into the esophagus, leading to heartburn.
Early symptoms of heartburn
- Burning sensation in the chest
This is a common sign of the condition, often erupting from behind the breastbone. This sensation may also be described as a sharp, burning, or aching pain. It typically occurs shortly after eating, especially when lying down or bending over.
Another common symptom of heartburn is regurgitation. This also occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the throat or mouth, leading to a sour or bitter taste. Regurgitation can be uncomfortable and distressing for many.
- Sour taste in the mouth
Heartburn may also cause a persistent sour or acidic taste in the mouth. This taste can linger, even after eating or drinking something to alleviate it.
- Difficulty swallowing
In some cases, heartburn can lead to difficulty swallowing; the condition is known as dysphagia. This occurs when stomach acid causes irritation and inflammation in the esophagus, making it painful to swallow.
- Chronic cough
A chronic, dry cough that does not seem to be related to other respiratory issues can sometimes be an early sign of heartburn. Stomach acid irritates the throat, leading to coughing.
- Hoarseness or sore throat
If one frequently experiences hoarseness or a sore throat without any other apparent cause, it could be due to stomach acid irritating one’s throat.
- Feeling of a lump in the throat
Some individuals with heartburn may report feeling like there is a lump or something stuck in their throat. This sensation, known as the globus sensation, can be uncomfortable and may persist.
- Excessive belching or burping
Frequent belching or burping, especially after meals, can be a sign of excess gas caused by heartburn.
- Bloating and abdominal discomfort
Heartburn can sometimes lead to abdominal discomfort and bloating. This may occur due to the pressure caused by stomach acid moving into the esophagus.
- Worsening symptoms when lying down or bending over
Heartburn symptoms often worsen when lying down or bending over. This is because these positions allow the stomach acids to flow more easily into the esophagus.
- Chest pain
Heartburn-induced chest pain is often mistaken for a heart attack. While it doesn’t typically radiate to the left arm or jaw like a heart attack, it can be intense and worrisome. This chest pain tends to occur after eating or lying down and can be relieved with antacids.
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
Heartburn can sometimes trigger or exacerbate respiratory symptoms, leading to wheezing and shortness of breath. This occurs when stomach acid irritates the airways, causing them to constrict and resulting in breathing difficulties.
- Chronic sore throat
Heartburn can lead to persistent irritation of the throat, resulting in a chronic sore throat that does not respond to lozenges or treatments. This symptom is caused by the repeated exposure of the throat to stomach acid.
- Water brash
This condition is an excessive production of saliva, often accompanied by a sour or acidic taste. It occurs in response to the irritation of the esophagus and throat caused by stomach acid reflux. Water brash can be an uncomfortable and distressing symptom of heartburn.
Managing early symptoms of heartburn
Recognizing the early symptoms of heartburn is the most crucial step in managing this condition effectively. Here are some strategies to help alleviate and prevent heartburn:
- Changes to one’s meal plan
Certain foods and beverages can trigger or worsen heartburn symptoms. Common culprits include spicy foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, and caffeine.
- Changes in eating habits
Eating large meals late at night can increase the risk of heartburn. Instead, one should opt for smaller, more frequent meals through the day and avoid lying down immediately after eating. The stomach should have enough time to digest food before one goes to bed.
- Elevating the head of one’s bed
In case of nighttime heartburn, one should consider elevating the head of one’s bed by a few inches. This helps prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus while one is asleep.
- Lifestyle changes
Certain unhealthy or faulty practices can exacerbate heartburn and should be avoided. For example, wearing tight clothing around the waist can increase pressure on the stomach, so it is advisable to opt for looser-fitting attire.
- Stress management
Stress can exacerbate heartburn symptoms, so following stress-reduction techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises may be beneficial.
- Consulting a healthcare professional
If one experiences frequent or severe heartburn symptoms, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional. They can determine if one has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and provide tailored treatment options in the form of oral or surgical interventions.
Recognizing the early symptoms of heartburn is crucial for maintaining digestive health and overall well-being. It is important to stay hydrated, as sipping on water frequently can help clear acid from the esophagus. Beverages like tea and coffee that contain caffeine should be strictly limited or avoided, as they can worsen heartburn symptoms.